WASHINGTON (AP) — With a bottle of bubbly at his feet and a baseball with the inscription “300 Ks” in a case in his locker, Max Scherzer allowed himself a moment to consider what he’d just accomplished.
“It was something I dreamed of, reaching this mark,” Scherzer said, “because I know how hard it is to consistently go out there and strike guys out.”
Scherzer became the 17th pitcher since 1900 to strike out 300 batters in a season, reaching that milestone by fanning 10 in seven innings Tuesday night during the Washington Nationals’ otherwise meaningless 9-4 victory over the Miami Marlins.
“A big number,” Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said, “when you’re talking about strikeouts.”
Scherzer (18-7) lowered his ERA to 2.53 by allowing one run in seven innings as he bids for a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award; he also won the 2013 honor in the AL for Detroit. He threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, gave up five hits and didn’t walk a batter.
The righty reached 300 by getting Austin Dean to whiff on an 85-mph slider at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat for the second out of the seventh. Scherzer pumped his fist while much of the announced crowd of 26,483 — including his wife, Erica May-Scherzer — joined players in the home dugout and home bullpen by saluting the ace with a standing ovation.
“I definitely wanted to do it here at home,” said the 34-year-old Scherzer, who is currently slated to make one more start, in Sunday’s season finale at Colorado. “The fans — unbelievable support.”
They would chant, “Let’s go, Max!” They would rise and cheer when he had two strikes on a hitter. They would emit a collective “Awwwwwww” when a pitch near the plate was ruled a ball — or even when a pitch resulted in any sort of out that wouldn’t add to his strikeout total.
Sweating profusely on a muggy, 78-degree evening, Scherzer had all of his repertoire working, from the 97-mph fastballs he threw past Lewis Brinson for strikeouts in the fourth and seventh innings, to the 84-mph changeup that JT Riddle missed for a K leading off the game.
As is Scherzer’s wont, he stalked around the grass after strikeouts.
Asked whether he considered pulling his famously intense pitcher before No. 300, Nationals manager Dave Martinez laughed.
“I value my life,” Martinez joked. “He was going to get 10 today, somehow.”
Scherzer now has 10 strikeouts or more in a majors-high 18 of his 33 starts in 2018, and 82 such games for his career.
He got Dean by throwing fastball after fastball with a full count, then getting him to chase a slider.
“That’s probably where you can see Max has become a more complete pitcher than he was earlier in his career,” Wieters said, “where he was able to go with the slider and execute it and realize that with where that fastball was starting, (Dean is) going to be way out in front of it.”
“He’s the best pitcher in baseball,” the Marlins rookie said.
The case certainly can be made. This is, after all, a guy with two no-hitters and a 20-strikeout game on his resume, along with the Cy Youngs.
Scherzer entered Tuesday ranked No. 1 in the NL in eight significant statistical categories, including strikeouts, strikeouts-to-walks ratio (5.69), opponents’ batting average (.188) and innings pitched (213 2/3). He was also tied for No. 1 in two others: wins and quality starts (27).
The expectation is that Scherzer and New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom are the main Cy Young contenders in the NL. DeGrom is 9-9 with a 1.77 ERA and single-season records of 23 consecutive quality starts and 28 starts in a row allowing three or fewer earned runs.
“There’s more to pitching than just striking guys out,” Scherzer said, “but also, it is a big reason why you can have success.”
RENDON AND HARPER
Nationals 3B Anthony Rendon hit a three-run shot in the first inning off Jeff Brigham (0-4), increasing his season totals to 24 homers and 90 RBIs and extending his streak of reaching base to 33 straight games. Rendon added an RBI double in the seventh, when Washington batted around and tacked on six runs. … Bryce Harper scored twice to surpass 100 runs for the season; he already had a career-best 100 RBIs and more than 100 walks. Harper can become a free agent in the offseason, so Wednesday’s series finale could be the 2015 NL MVP’s last home game at Nationals Park.
The Nationals will give 26-year-old RHP Kyle McGowin his first start in the majors Wednesday. Miami will start LHP Wei-Yin Chen (6-11, 4.66 ERA).
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